Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

Annual Prison Census 2012 - Vietnam

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 11 December 2012
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Annual Prison Census 2012 - Vietnam, 11 December 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50c7027a2.html [accessed 26 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Journalists in prison as of December 1, 2012

Vietnam: 14

Nguyen Van Hai (Nguyen Hoang Hai), freelance
Imprisoned: April 19, 2008

Hai was first arrested in April 2008 and held without charge for five months. A closed court convicted him of tax evasion on September 10, 2008, charges that rights groups criticized as a pretext to stifle his critical blog postings about the government. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

After completing his prison term, Hai remained in detention while authorities investigated new anti-state charges related to his online journalism. On September 24, 2012, a criminal court sentenced Hai to 12 years in prison and five years' house arrest under Article 88 of the penal code, a vague law that bars "conducting propaganda" against the state.

Hai, who also goes by the name "Nguyen Hoang Hai," was an outspoken commentator on his political blog Dieu Cay (The Peasant's Pipe) and on website of the Free Journalists Club, which he co-founded with two other bloggers. (Co-founders Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan were also tried and convicted in September 2012.) Several of Hai's blog entries had touched on politically sensitive issues, including national protests against China, which disputed Vietnam's claim to sovereignty over the nearby Spratly and Paracel islands, and government corruption. Hai had also called for demonstrations against the Beijing Olympic torch relay, which passed through Ho Chi Minh City in December 2007.

Court President Nguyen Phi Long said in his verdict that Hai and the other bloggers had "abused the popularity of the Internet to post articles which undermined and blackened Vietnam's (leaders), criticizing the (Communist) party (and) destroying people's trust in the state," according to an Agence France-Presse report.

The one-day trial was plagued with procedural irregularities, according to the Observatory of Human Rights Defenders (OHRD), a joint international human rights group reporting program. OHRD reported that the court cut off the microphone when Hai spoke to defend himself and that his lawyer was barred from calling any witnesses.

According to the Free Journalists Network of Vietnam, Hai's family filed 12 different formal requests, petitions, and appeals for visitation in 2011, none of which the authorities acknowledged. Hai was being held at Ho Chi Minh City's Security Police Investigations Department.

Nguyen Xuan Nghia, freelance
Imprisoned: September 11, 2008

Nghia, who helped edit the pro-democracy news and commentary journal To Quoc (Fatherland) and contributed to several state-run publications, was arrested at his home in Haiphong province. He was sentenced in a one-day trial on October 9, 2009, to six years in prison under Article 88 of the penal code for "propagandizing" against the state.

The charges against Nghia were based on 57 articles, essays, and poems he wrote between 2007 until his arrest in 2008, including writings that the judges said were intended to "insult the Communist Party," "distort the situation of the country," and "slander and disgrace the country's leaders," according to an English-language translation of the verdict done by PEN International, a freedom of expression organization.

Many of the articles promoted democracy and were published in To Quoc, a publication sanctioned by the state. Nghia was also charged with being a founding member of Bloc 8406, a banned pro-democracy movement that has called for pluralism and multi-party democracy. A Haiphong city appeals court upheld his sentence in January 2010. He was being held at the B14 labor camp in northern Ha Dong province.

Pham Thanh Nghien, freelance
Imprisoned: September 13, 2008

A Haiphong city court sentenced online writer Nghien on January 29, 2010, to four years in prison and three years of house arrest on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. She was arrested when more than 20 police officers raided her home during a September 2008 crackdown on dissidents.

Nghien was originally charged with staging a protest at her home, erecting banners protesting government policy in a maritime dispute involving China, and posting the images on the Internet. But state prosecutors dropped the charges and instead singled out an online article she had written for international media in which she criticized public officials for siphoning off compensation funds intended for survivors of fishermen killed by Chinese maritime patrols in 2007, according to international news reports.

Nghien was also accused of criticizing the government in interviews with Western media outlets, including the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia. Her half-day trial was closed to international media and diplomats, news reports said. She was held in solitary confinement until her sentencing in January 2010.

On July 4, 2008, before her arrest, Nghien was severely beaten by four plainclothes police officers who threatened her and her family if she continued her outspoken criticism of government policies, according to Front Line, a human rights group. Nghien wrote several online articles in promotion of human rights, democracy, and better treatment of landless peasants, according to international news reports.

Phan Thanh Hai (Anh Ba Saigon), freelance
Imprisoned: October 18, 2010

Hai, a lawyer and political blogger who wrote under the penname Anh Ba Saigon, was first taken into custody on a provisional four-month detention while authorities investigated charges that he had disseminated anti-state information, a criminal offense under Article 88 of Vietnam's penal code.

On September 24, 2012, Hai was sentenced to four years in prison and three years of house arrest on anti-state charges of "conducting propaganda" against the state for his blogging activities. Hai was one of three founding members of the independent Free Journalists Club website, which was singled out in the court's ruling for posting anti-state materials. Co-founders Ta Phong Tan and Nguyen Van Hai were tried and convicted at the same time.

Hai's personal blog often touched on issues considered sensitive by the Vietnamese authorities, including a scandal at the state-run shipbuilder Vinashin, maritime and territorial disputes with China, and a controversial Chinese-supported bauxite mining project in the country's Central Highlands.

In the days before his arrest, Hai published on his blog a critical legal analysis of Article 88, arguing that the provision violated the right to freedom of expression protected broadly in Vietnam's constitution under Article 69, according to the Observatory of Human Rights Defenders. He was being held at Ho Chi Minh City's Security Police Investigations Department in late 2012.

Lu Van Bay (Tran Bao Viet), freelance
Imprisoned: March 26, 2011

Bay, also known as Tran Bao Viet, was arrested after police raided his house and confiscated his computers and copies of his published articles, according to news reports. On August 22, 2011, he was sentenced by a court in southern Kien Giang province to four years in prison and three years of house arrest on charges of "conducting propaganda against the state," a penal code offense.

The court's judgment cited 10 articles Bay posted on overseas websites – including Dam Chin Viet (Vietnamese Birds), Do Thoa (Dialogue), and To Quoc (Fatherland) – that were critical of Vietnam's one-party system and called for multi-party democracy.

Dang Xuan Dieu, freelance
Ho Duc Hoa, freelance
Imprisoned: July 30, 2011

Dieu and Hoa, religious activists and contributors to the news website Vietnam Redemptorist News, were detained at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam Redemptorist News, an online publication run by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, reports on the plight of the country's persecuted Catholic minority, land disputes between the government and grassroots communities, and other social issues.

Dieu and Hoa were detained on unspecified charges under Article 79 of the penal code, which outlines penalties for activities aimed at overthrowing the government. Under Vietnamese law, the maximum penalties for violations are life imprisonment or capital punishment. The two were also accused of membership in the outlawed, exile-run Viet Tan party.

In late year, Dieu and Hoa were being held in pre-trial detention in Hanoi's B14 Detention Center and had not been allowed legal counsel, according to Viet Tan. Dieu had not been allowed to receive any visitors since his initial arrest, according to Human Rights Watch and other international rights organizations.

Paulus Le Van Son, freelance
Imprisoned: August 3, 2011

Son, a blogger and contributor to the news websites Vietnam Redemptorist News and Bao Khong Le (Newspaper Without Lanes), was arrested in front of his home in the capital, Hanoi. News reports citing an eyewitness said that police knocked him from his motorcycle to the ground, grabbed his arms and legs, and threw him into a waiting police vehicle.

Son was detained on unspecified charges under Article 79 of the penal code, which outlines penalties for activities aimed at overthrowing the government. Under Vietnamese law, the maximum penalties for violations are life imprisonment or capital punishment. Son was also accused of membership in the outlawed, exile-run Viet Tan party.

Vietnam Redemptorist News, an online publication run by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, reports on the plight of the country's persecuted Catholic minority, land disputes between the government and grassroots communities, and other social issues. Bao Khong Le focuses on issues such as corruption and sovereignty conflicts with China. In the months before his arrest, Son posted a number of sensitive entries to his own blog, addressing anti-China protests and territorial disputes with China.

Son was also briefly detained in April 2011 after attempting to attend a court hearing for pro-democracy dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu. Son's personal blog covered sensitive political and social issues, including anti-China demonstrations, government harassment of prominent pro-democracy and Catholic Church activists, and violence in schools.

Son was being held in pre-trial detention at Hanoi's notoriously harsh Hoa Lo prison. He had not been allowed visitors since his arrest, according to Human Rights Watch and other international rights organizations.

Nong Hung Anh, freelance
Imprisoned: August 5, 2011

Anh, a foreign languages student at Hanoi University, was detained on unspecified charges under Article 79 of the penal code. He frequently wrote about social and religious issues in various Vietnamese-language blogs and online news services, including Vietnam Redemptorist News, Bao Khong Le (Newspaper Without Lanes), and the environmental blog Bauxite Viḝt Nam.

Anh was being held in pre-trial detention at Hanoi's B14 Detention Center, according to the exile-run political party Viet Tan. No trial date had been set by late year, Viet Tan said.

Nguyen Van Duyet, freelance
Imprisoned: August 7, 2011

Duyet, a regular contributor to the news website Vietnam Redemptorist News and president of the Association of Catholic Workers, was first detained in Vinh city, Nghe An province. Vietnam Redemptorist News, an online publication run by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, reports on the plight of the country's persecuted Catholic minority, land disputes between the government and grassroots communities, and other social issues.

Duyet was detained on unspecified charges under Article 79 of the penal code, which outlines penalties for activities aimed at overthrowing the government. Under Vietnamese law, the maximum penalties for violations are life imprisonment or capital punishment. Duyet was also accused of membership in the outlawed, exile-run Viet Tan political party.

Duyet was being held in pre-trial detention in Hanoi, according to Viet Tan. No trial date had been set by late year, according to Viet Tan.

Ta Phong Tan, freelance
Imprisoned: September 5, 2011

Tan, a blogger and former police officer, was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on anti-state charges related to her online writings. On September 24, 2012, a criminal court sentenced her to 10 years in prison and five years' house arrest under Article 88 of the penal code, which bars "conducting propaganda" against the state. She had been briefly detained and interrogated on several occasions before her arrest.

Tan was one of three founding members of the Free Journalists Club website, which was singled out in the court ruling for posting anti-state materials. Co-founders Phan Thanh Hai and Nguyen Van Hai were tried and convicted at the same time. Tan's personal blog, Cong Ly v Su That (Justice and Truth), focused on human rights abuses and corruption among police.

Court President Nguyen Phi Long said in his verdict that Tan and the other two bloggers had "abused the popularity of the Internet to post articles which undermined and blackened Vietnam's (leaders), criticizing the (Communist) party (and) destroying people's trust in the state," according to an Agence France-Presse report.

Tan's mother, Thi Kim Lieng, self-immolated on July 30, 2012, in front of a government office in Bac Lieu province to protest the official harassment suffered by her family and the handling of her daughter's case, according to news reports. She died on her way to the hospital while in police custody, the reports said.

Dinh Dang Dinh, freelance
Imprisoned: October 2011

Dinh, a former schoolteacher and blogger, was sentenced in a one-day trial to six years in prison by a Dak Nong province court on August 8, 2012. He was charged with violating the criminal code's Article 88, a vague provision that bans "propagandizing" against the state. He was held in pre-trial detention for 10 months while state investigators prepared their case against him.

The charges related to entries Dinh posted on his personal blog between 2007 and 2011 in which he expressed opposition to the Communist Party leadership and a controversial government-supported bauxite mining project in the country's Central Highlands region, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

Authorities said they found hundreds of pages of what they considered to be anti-state material on Dinh's seized laptop computer, including entries that rejected the ruling Communist Party and questioned the ethics of state founder Ho Chi Minh, according to a Voice of America report.

Radio Free Asia reported that Dinh's family had been pressured by authorities not to publicize his case and had not been told when his trial would be held. A Dak Nong province appeals court upheld his sentence at a hearing held on November 21. Radio Free Asia reported Dinh was beaten by police with clubs and violently pushed into a waiting police truck after the ruling.

Le Thanh Tung, freelance
Imprisoned: December 1, 2011

A Hanoi court convicted Tung, a former military officer and independent blogger, on charges of "conducting propaganda" against the state under Article 88 of the criminal code, news reports said. He was sentenced to five years in prison and four years of house arrest. In the one-hour trial held in August 2012, the court ruled that Tung's articles "distorted the policies of the state and the party," the reports said.

Tung's online articles called for pluralism, multi-party democracy, and constitutional amendments that would alter Vietnam's authoritarian, one-party political system, Agence France-Presse reported, citing local-language publications.

Nguyen Van Khuong (Hoang Khuong), Tuoi Tre
Imprisoned: January 2, 2012

Khuong, a reporter with the Vietnamese-language daily Tuoi Tre, was arrested on charges of bribing a police officer, according to news reports. The 15 million dong (US$720) bribe, made in June 2011, was part of a Tuoi Tre undercover investigation into police corruption. Based on the undercover transaction, the newspaper published an article headlined "Traffic cop takes bribe to return bike" under Khuong's penname, Hoang Khuong. The story prompted a government investigation of not only the recipient of the bribe but of the journalist as well.

Authorities pressured Tuoi Tre's editorial board to suspend Khuong from his reporting duties in early December 2011, a month before his arrest. Tuoi Tre representatives were not permitted to give evidence during Khuong's brief trial, according to The Associated Press.

In a two-day trial on September 7, the People's Court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Khuong to four years in prison, news reports said. The police officer who received the bribe and the two businessmen involved in brokering and delivering the money on Khuong's behalf were also given prison terms. Khuong, who had reported on police corruption in the past for Tuoi Tre, appealed the verdict.

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